Wayne Bennett believes the NRL’s new concussion rules are at odds with rugby league’s “warrior mentality” and will make it difficult for coaches to bring players off after a head knock.
Tweaks made to the NRL’s concussion policy now mean players will be barred from returning to the field if they show any of a series of prescribed indicators of concussion, including a loss of consciousness, balance or memory.
The updated rules are intended to place more power in the hands of club doctors to make a decision when a player suffers a head injury.
But while welcoming the increased emphasis on player welfare, Bennett said the system still had flaws.
“We’ve convinced (players) that it’s in their best interests to come off and there’s a good system in place but they’ve got the warrior mentality, these guys, and you don’t want them any other way,” the Broncos coach said on Thursday morning.
“That’s the make-up of a good rugby league player.
“A warrior mentality is ‘I’m not going to let my teammates down, I’m going to stay.’
“That’s what they were brought up on and it’s changing – and I’m happy with the change, but at the same time I don’t want to make it a situation where it’s really, really difficult for us as coaches and medical staff trying to get somebody off that knows he’s going to get rubbed off straight away, as soon as he comes off the ground.”
The new rules come into force this weekend and follow a $20,000 fine issued to the Parramatta Eels for their handling of three concussion incidents.
Under a second rule amendment, players must leave the field – but can return if they are not concussed, following assessment – if they suffer from an incident such as a facial fracture that could have caused concussion.
Under the new rule, Sam Burgess would have had to leave the field to be assessed in last year’s grand final.
Bennett advocated a move towards the use of independent doctors to assess concussed players to ensure the system was not abused.
“If you bring the independent doctor into it there’s no chance of a rort,” he said.
“Whatever rule we’ve introduced, coaches have tried to bend it somewhere or some staff have tried to bend it.
“It’s life or death sometimes. It really isn’t, but that’s what you’re feeling at the time.
“Young coaches under more pressure than other coaches, a whole lot of variables come into it.
“You’ve got to make them foolproof and idiot proof just about to make it work.”
Bennett also said NRL clubs should be allowed “flexibility” to use an 18th man should a player go down with concussion.
Such a move would follow the AFL’s use of a team’s substitute as a temporary interchange player while a player is being assessed for concussion.